Dead man walking?

It sounds like the premise for a Stephen King novel, but it’s real life. Benjamin Schreiber, a 66-year-old man, is serving a life sentence for murder in an Iowa prison. Back in 1996, he bludgeoned a man to death with an axe handle. In 2015 he suddenly became seriously ill, so ill that he lapsed into a coma and “died”.

But he recovered. Disappointed that he was still alive, he appealed to have his life sentence voided as it had already “expired”.

It’s an intriguing argument. Can you live two lives? Are you the same person after being resuscitated? Or are you literally a dead man walking?

Unfortunately for Schreiber, the court took a dim view of his request.

“We do not find his argument persuasive,” wrote a judge this week. She concluded: “Schreiber is either still alive, in which case he must remain in prison, or he is actually dead, in which case this appeal is moot.”

This ruling will allow the citizens of Iowa to sleep easier at night, but philosophically isn’t a bit naive in the way it addresses the problem of identity? Isn’t it possible that Mr (1996) Schreiber is dead and that Mr (2019) Schreiber is a different person? If S(2019) identifies as a dead person, shouldn’t we accept his carefully considered opinion?

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About meaning and purpose

With IVF firmly established legally and socially, the status of children has become a bit murky. Initially IVF was a remedy for medical infertility for married couples. Then it became a solution for "social infertility" for solo mothers and gay couples. A recent decision by an English Court extends the logic of IVF a bit further. A judge has ruled that a brain-damaged and severely handicapped woman should be allowed to have child to give meaning and purpose to her life. (See article below.)

 Where are the rights of the child in this development? To have no father, to be raised by grandparents who may die early, leaving a youngster in charge of a handicapped mother... It seems to violate a fundamental tenet of liberal democracy -- that people exist for their own sake, not as means to an end. 

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Fight over ‘transgender’ 7-year-old raises complex issues

If you live in Texas and you're itching to write a book about something, but you're not sure what, consider our lead story today.

We're all used to the tragedy of child custory cases after divorce, but this is completely novel. Jeff Younger and Anne Georgulas, now divorced, have twin 7-year-old sons. One of them, claims Dr Georgulas (she is a paediatrician), James, is transgender and needs to start on puberty blockers soon lest he begin life as a young man. Younger is horrified. He insists that James was, is and always will be a male. 

At first a jury agreed with Dr Georgulas, but an appeal has changed this. The battle, I predict, is far from over. No doubt we will see more and more cases like this.

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Direct to consumer test for gay attraction slammed

Hi there,

Sorry to be so late in posting out this issue of BioEdge. We hit a few speed bumps along the way....


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Disabilities and assisted suicide

Speeches by supporters of assisted suicide always include a big shout-out for people with disabilities. Hey, guys, you’re top on our list of favs; we’re just working out the delicate balance against individual rights. Just hang in there; we love youse all. Which, translated, means that the fears of people with disabilities will be overlooked.

Unsurprisingly, a major authoritative report by the US National Council on Disabilities, a federal agency, on disability and assisted suicide has been almost totally ignored by the media. Assisted Suicide Laws and Their Danger to People with Disabilities is a scathing analysis of arguments in favour of assisted suicide. As the report – which was released on Wednesday -- points out: “Many national disability rights organizations oppose the legalization of assisted suicide. All national groups that have taken a position are opposed.”

Isn’t anyone listening? (See the article below.)

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No BioEdge this week

There will be no BioEdge this week. Monday is Labour Day and in the great tradition of celebrating the working man, we will not be working. 

See you next week

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Canada’s euthanasia regime under fire

I thought that Canadians were not eligible for euthanasia unless they were suffering from a terminal illness. So did the relatives of 61-year-old Alan Nichols, of British Columbia, who was suffering from depression. But he asked for euthanasia and his request was approved. His relatives had no input in the decision. It seems to be a landmark case in the steady downward slide of Canada's new euthanasia laws. Read about it below. 

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I had a friend once whose dad collected clapped-out old refrigerators. As hobbies go, it was pretty harmless, although disposing of 34 useless refrigerators was a bit of a drag after he died. But I wonder what use Indiana abortionist Ulrich Klopfer had for 2,246 foetuses. As we report below, the late Dr Klopfer stored them away, keeping them secret even from his family.

To me this horrific discovery is front-page news, but the media has, for the most part, ignored it. To its credit, the New York Times ran a story -- even if it was on page 22. Perhaps that says something about what Americans think of abortion doctors. Ho hum, that’s just the kind of stuff that these guys get up to in their spare time… get over it.

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More on conscientious objection

Conscientious objection to procedures like abortion and euthanasia often features in BioEdge. There is a growing consensus that CO has no place in modern medicine. It’s often argued nowadays that a doctor’s duty is to carry out the wishes of patients, regardless of whether they agree with them or not.

I stumbled across an interesting hypothetical on the American Medical Association Journal of Ethics which makes me question this consensus. In it, three bioethicists analyse a situation involving a difficult patient with deep Christian convictions. He is refusing post-operative pain medication because he believes that he needs to suffer in order to atone for his life as an alcoholic. What should the physician do?

The bioethicists conclude that he should neither acquiesce nor refer the patient to another doctor who will acquiesce. Instead, the physician should “refuse to offer this course of action, regardless of the religious rationale for such a request”.

They go on to assert that “Indeed, as part of their professional commitment to the patient’s health, physicians have some obligation to respectfully challenge patients' refusals of medical care that the physician believes is needed. A sincere discussion—even a respectful debate—in no way denigrates [his] religious beliefs.”

Indeed, this makes good sense. But, viewed from another angle, the bioethicists are advising the physician to conscientiously object to a course of action determined by a lucid patient after serious consideration. They even counsel him to argue (respectfully) with the patient to convince him that he is wrong.

If this is so obviously the case, why is it wrong for a doctor to refuse to perform an abortion? I’m having trouble reconciling the ethical reasoning of the two situations. Can anyone help? 

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Septuagenarian mothers

Below is an article about a 73-year-old Indian woman who has just given birth to twin boys. This is a story which used to fly onto the front page, but is now a bit ho-hum. To stir media interest, we need to break through the next barrier. “Centenarian gives birth to twins, say Indian doctors” – now that would be newsworthy, I think. At least the first centenarian would.

The ho-hum factor may account for the fact that few questions were raised about obvious ethical issues involved in septuagenarians giving birth.

First of all, it is obviously reinforcing a sexist stereotype – that a woman is useless unless she has children. Furthermore, despite reassuring words from the doctors, it is a serious risk to the mother’s health.

Second, the children of a 73-year-old mother will soon be orphans. In fact, their father had a stroke on the day after they were born. No one seems to be thinking about their welfare and their future. They are just status symbols for their parents and the doctors.

Why did the doctors cooperate? For the money? For the fame? It strikes me as completely unethical.

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